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Top TV techs head to Charlotte for ESPN game

By Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn
Mark Washburn writes television and radio commentary for The Charlotte Observer.

When “Monday Night Football” returns to Charlotte next week for the first time in five years, it will be a home game for about 5 percent of the broadcast crew.

In addition to a fleet of production trucks, ESPN brings a crew of about 200 to broadcast the game. For 10 of them, North Carolina is already their home.

Phil Andrews of Charlotte is one. A video specialist, he is a 20-year veteran of ESPN broadcasts.

When ESPN inherited the “Monday Night Football” franchise from ABC in 2006, producer Jay Rothman and director Chip Dean picked out their dream team of talent to staff the games. Because it is one of the most prominent series in all of sports, they got their pick of the best of the best in all positions.

Most crew members are independent contractors well experienced in sports broadcasting. Andrews, who has won three Emmys in technical categories, has worked on broadcasts for everything from baseball spring training in Florida to America’s Cup yachting.

His favorite gig? Little League World Series. “Those nonprofessional events are some of the best to work. Everyone is so excited to be there.”

Before each game, meetings are held with the crew to discuss the story lines, team strategies and whatever else may be crucial to the broadcast. Every aspect of the game is considered.

“It’s a big orchestra of people exchanging information that lets us put it all smoothly together,” Andrews says. “They pretty much consider every situation that they can think of that might come up.”

About 30 cameras are used for each game, and each operator has responsibility for certain players or parts of the field.

“Football is one of the easier sports to cover because there are breaks in the action, and the ball is generally going in one direction, like basketball. It’s on a rectangle, perfect for TV,” Andrews says.

Baseball is trickier to broadcast because nothing will happen for a long time, then suddenly, there’s action everywhere. Golf is technically challenging because it is so spread out, he says.

Charlotte is home to a subculture of experienced broadcasters because so much sports production is done here – ESPN’s collegiate channel, Fox Sports 1, NASCAR, Raycom and other units are based in Charlotte. Andrews has met many of the technical experts in the area who make television happen and calls it a family-like circle.

After Andrews graduated from Ohio University in 1990 with a degree in telecommunications, he lived in a tent in Florida for a month, finding work as a freelance technician during spring training. Then he moved to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates and Penguins were hot, and found more work.

Soon, he had built his reputation and was getting calls to work more events. By 1992, he was working with ESPN on the America’s Cup.

Other North Carolina residents on the “Monday Night Football” team are rules consultant Gerry Austin of Greensboro; video team lead Leo Boucher and video technician Linus Walsh, both of New Bern; timeout producer Dick Shafter of Fletcher; audio specialist Patrick Martin and replay specialist Joel McKee, both of Charlotte; camera operators Larry Faircloth and David Wojcik, both of Raleigh; and cameraman Tim Tew of Gastonia.

Media Movers

Gearing up for the January launch of its news department, WJZY (Channel 46) adds Ned Hibberd as assistant news director. Hibberd comes from the Fox-owned station in Houston, where he has worked for 23 years. … Other recent additions to the Fox 46 Carolinas newsroom include executive producer Mark Grzybowski, Alesha Ray, Stephanie Glover and Steven Gaither as Web producers/digital journalists, and Amanda O’Hara, assistant to the vice president of content. …

Former Observer columnist Tommy Tomlinson will be writing for the newspaper again as an occasional contributor, says editor Rick Thames. … Former WCNC (Channel 36) meteorologist Terri Bennett, who now runs the green-living media company Do Your Part, was named a winner of a Stevie Award for women in business at a banquet this month in New York. …

Anniversaries of note: Molly Grantham and Dedrick Russell mark a decade at WBTV. They started on the same day in 2003. … Former WDAV-FM (89.9) general manager Benjamin Roe joins Boston’s public television station as managing producer of music and performance.

Washburn: 704-358-5007
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